There is hope

By Damian O’Donnell

Recently on this forum John Harms asked “What has happened to the world?”  He made the point that we live in a world where “the disingenuous thrive, where mendacity is trumps…..” and he lays a lot of the blame at the feet of “rum-fart academics who have been seduced by the faddish intellectual nothingness of post-modernism which is a way of understanding so devoid of moral accountability and fibre that it is beyond the rum-fart on the spectrum of spinlessness.”

 My old man calls these people “middle class slop”.


There was a great nodding of the head from the Knackers community. We hear you brother, we all said. Sadly John considers that “The battle has been lost.” I fear he might be right. The last sanctuary in my little world was over -run by rum-farters at the end of 2009; that was when the Stawell Gift contracted a devastating case of spin-colitis (colloquially called rum-farters disease) and went onto life support. Soul-less, humour-less and characterless forces conspired to rationalize that a shifting of the Stawell Gift to another location was a good thing. They also want to shift Uluru to Circular Quay so international tourists don’t have to travel so far to see it. The Stawell Gift currently lies in a hospital bed surrounded by machines that go “ping” and “beep” and has pipes thrust down its throat that wheeze the air in and out of its constricted lungs. It hangs by a thread.

But I am here to give hope. In fact I have seen hope. Last night (Tuesday). On the TV; SBS at 8.30. It was the first part of a two part film called “Outback Fight Club”. It’s a film about the last tent fighting troupe in Australia, perhaps the world. A bloke by the name of Fred Brophy has a small family of boxers he takes around north and central Queensland who pull up in a town, set up their tent, and take on all comers. The people know exactly what they are getting. There’s no spin here.

He stands in front of the gathering of locals (in last night’s episode they started in Crawcow and went on to Mt Isa) and says,

“Righto you blokes, and you girls too because it makes no difference, who wants to fight one of my boys or girls (he has two female boxers in the troupe). This is nothin’ like you’ve ever seen or will ever see again. Just stick your hand up. How about you big fella?”  

And at the beginning of the fight he gets the two boxers together and says,

“The winner gets the money. You have to win to take it. A draw and you get your (entry) money back. If you lose you get the experience.”

He has people in his troupe like “Budder Been”, or perhaps its “Butter Been”, or “Budda Bing” I don’t know. Fred introduced him too fast for me to catch it through his tight slit of a mouth. Budder came up the hard way. He had a brother who went to jail for murder then got murdered himself, he’s spent his life drinking and fighting. Behind the glassy, Bundeberg Rum and Coke eyes is a rage that Budder is trying to tame. He now has a wife and some kids and can see a future. Fred reckons that every time he fights they extract a little bit more rage out of his body, “one tweezer pinch at a time”.

Budder is very large. Not tall, but robust like Mick Nolan was. And round. He looks like a collection of circles that have been glued together. He says he was never taught how to fight. “I learnt how in the pubs and that” he says, grinning an edgy grin. His mouth looks like a piano keyboard; every second tooth is missing. In between rounds he takes large slugs from cans of Bundy and Coke he has stationed in his corner. After the tour ends he goes back to his farm and his family.

There’s another bloke called “The Last Mohican”. He’s a showman, a bloke who has the balls to turn up in towns like Crawcow and Mt Isa with a bright pink Mohican haircut. He says he fights to get the girls. “I haven’t slept in my own swag for a week” he tells the camera, laughing like a man with all the wealth in the world. Fred loves him.

“The girls love ‘im”, says Fred, “which means their boyfriends hate him, which means they all want to fight ‘im. He’s good for business.”

During the episode I watched a young girl called “The Crawcow Jawbreaker” learning the trade. She ultimately decides it’s not for her. She was once a bikini model. She won Miss April in a bikini competition some years back. She decides boxing puts her health at too much risk. Considering that she spent three months in a coma some years ago after a car accident I reckon she might be right. But her colleague is very much the fighter. She’s called “The Bitch”. She’s beefy, burly, and mean; a strapping, blonde lass who I would hate to come home late to. She punches like she means it.

Fred is taking his troupe from Mt Isa across to Birdsville. He thinks it might be his last gig. If he retires there will be no more boxing tents left. I hope he doesn’t. We’ll find out next Tuesday night at 8.30.

After each night’s entertainment they gather around a fire, have a feed and have a few drinks. Fred calls them his family. This family has saved more than a few lost souls.

It was such a refreshing film to watch. These people take no notice of the world where information is just another commodity. They live how they want to live, brave enough to have a crack at anyone who steps forward. There are no excuses. There is no escape in the boxing ring. And whilst people like this persist perhaps there is hope for freedom of spirit and thought.  Positive spirit and positive thought.

So hang in there good people. Where there is light there is hope.

About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. Nice one, Dips. Sadly forgot to watch that one last night.

    I did catch a documentary the night before about today’s kids having less “free play” than ever. I was again reminded of the “spin” that has led to so many parents feeling that they have to (a) know where their kids are and what they are doing at all times and (b) have their kids actively engaged in “organised” sports at almost every moment.

    A culture of fear and competition, influenced – if not bred by – the spin doctors, basically means is that many of today’s kids are not being given the chance to learn about risk, negotiation and resilience in the way that we did.

    Thankfully, Monday’s doco highlighted some great examples of people who recognise this and who are bucking the trend. One was a woman, who was lambasted across the world for allowing her 10-year-old son to go on the New York subway alone. I found her attitude very refreshing. Another was a school in Britain that forwent organised lunch-time activities in favour of “unstructured” play. The results were enlightening and encouraging.

    The doco correctly pointed out that there are risks faced by kids in our world and that there is a place for structured activity. But it also very important for our kids’ futures that we “let them go” and leave them to do as they wish and, as Dips says, “take no notice of the world”.

  2. Dips,
    Great stuff!
    I watched and enjoyed the program last night. I was full of admiration for those young country blokes who get up and have a crack.
    For me, there is a certain wonder about the outback boxing tents, and maybe a slight romanticism for a lost part of Australian life.
    As an aside: when he was about 16, my father (no doubt emboldened by a drink or two) heeded the call of the man with the drum outside Jimmy Sharman’s tent at the Melbourne Show. He took on, and beat, a much older Aboriginal boxer in what he says were ten of the scariest minutes of his life.

  3. Gigs – there are some hidden gems on TV occasionally. You’re right about kids needing to get out and just be kids. I’m about to go away for two weeks up to Yarrawonga where our kids will have breakfast, then we’ll only see glimpses of them for the rest of the day. They have a ball.

    Smokie – I’d love to read more about your old man’s experience. Those fights were pretty tough. My old man used to watch them as well. He also went to Festival Hall to watch the 10 rounders.

  4. Phil Dimitriadis says

    I just Googled Rum-Fart Academics. Harmsy’s article heads the list worldwide!

    Dips can’t say I favour the idea of people belting the crap at of each other to lift their self-esteem. I grew up in a pretty violent working class neighborhood and I know that violence just manifests into fear and loathing…of oneself and others.

    I agree with Gigs that kids are naturally creative if you allow them the space to be so. Unstructured play is a great way for kids to create amusement and solve problems.

    As for fighting: “Our Great War is a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is a personal one” THE FIGHT CLUB

  5. Phil – maybe you’re right about the violence, but who are we to say. I don’t believe in banning things. It takes no intellect at all to do that. This boxing troupe has saved some wayward people from themselves. Also, this is not people punching on in the street. Its not fighting out of anger and frustration. They regard it as fun.

    I’ve always been intrigued by boxing because I can’t fathom the bravery of people who step into the ring. A great boxer is a beautiful thing to watch.

  6. Grant Fraser says

    Looking forward to next week.

    Was lovely to watch Fred looking out on Birdsville (I think), contemplating that his time in the tent with his boys and girls may be drawing to a close. With no fanfare he angles his face away from camera, takes a few steps and discretely wipes away a tear. No spin required.

  7. Andrew Starkie says

    Watched it last night. Pleased to know other knackers did as well. Loved it. What a sensational piece of Australian culture and history. My dad can recall tent boxing at the Warrnambool Agricultural Show many years back. Paul kelly’s ‘Gather round the Drum’ (?) captures it all very well. Have a book titled ‘Tent Boxing” by a bloke attached to another troupe that used to roam outback QLD. Worth a read if anyone interested.

  8. Andrew – do you know who wrote that? Was it about Sharman’s tent?

  9. Nice yarn, Dips… annoyed I missed it!

  10. In Tassy we used to have the ‘Harry Paulsen’ boxing troupe.

    Harry was Scandinavian and apparently left a merchant ship in Hobart to start a new life post WW2.

    It is rumored that his first enterprise was a bit of dog napping in the better suburbs of Hobart, look after them well, and wait for the lost dog ad in the “Mockery”, contact the owner and receive a tythe for his good work.

    He liked animals and always ensured they were well fed and loved.

    The business was going steadily till he unwittingly had a repeat client and things went pear shaped.

    His boxing troupe was iconic at all the shows.

    I missed the program last night, Dips, as I was resting the leg in bed and listening to the ‘big bash’ between the mighty all conquering Vics and lowly Tassy.

    Do you want to know the result?

  11. Thanks Phanto but baseball doesn’t interest me.

  12. Tsssk! Tsssk!

    I didn’t hear any mention of the Claxton Shield.

  13. Andrew Fithall says


    Given your dislike of banning things and your apparent love of (aspects of) boxing, I am interested to hear your opinion on the current Victorian ban on Ultimate Fighting Championship?


  14. “A round or two, for a pound or two”.

  15. AF #13 – I think that is a game for thugs and morons. That’s not boxing, just as T20 is not cricket. I don’t believe in banning things, but there are always exceptions – dog fighting, cock fighting, Ultimate Fighting and indoor dwarf tossing.

  16. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Tent Boxing? Come on guys we’re trying to have a civilization here!

    What’s next arm wrestling the bearded lady so our youth can feel better about themselves?

    How about getting some troubled youth to volunteer at Aged Care facilities helping to insert catheters into incontinent citizens?

    How about helping out at an Intensive Care Unit or a Disabled care facility,orphanage or animal shelter? That is real, that is learning about service to community and humanity.

    I too don’t like the idea of banning things, as underground activities will always thrive. However, I don’t think endorsing the risk of brain damage and other physical injury in the name of self-improvement will do our youth any favours either.

  17. Phil #16 – no one is forcing anyone to do anything. And why can’t they do both kinds of work?

    One of the characters in the movie says that boxing saved his life, otherwise he would have gone totally off the rails. That’s pretty positive I reckon.

    You might not view it as self improvement but these people do.

  18. At least in the boxing ring people know they are likely to get knocked about.

    What was the story about the Melbourne player’s dad who was set apon by civilised Pies?

  19. Richard Jones says

    DIPS: I started off in [sports] journalism writing and broadcasting on the ABC network about the fights in Papua New Guinea.
    Amateur bouts to start with before a couple of South Pacific Games medallists turned pro. It would have been the mid-60s.

    And like Smokie’s Dad I too took in the fights in the Jimmy Sharman tent. As an onlooker, not a combatant. That would have been the late 50s.
    The drum being beaten on the stand outside the tent produces the most vital sound attached to a boxing troupe …. any boxing troupe!

    Fred Brophy reminded me a tad of Sharman, but Fred seems to have far more humanity about him. And as Grant F. points out it was touching to see, with retirement looming, Fred gazing out at Birdsville in the distance and then turning away with a tear in the eye.

    Great stuff. A really fantastic documentary, but perhaps I’m biased becoz I’m a serious fight buff. Incidentally, I wrote about Smokin’ Joe Frazier’s 1975 visit to Port Moresby for Daff in a 2010 post on this site.

  20. Richard # 19 – I’d love to have a chat about it with you one day. So would my old man. In fact on the weekend he (my father) was talking at great length about Elley Bennett and Dave Sands. I told him he should write all that stuff down.

    I also love old boxing stories. The sweet science.

    #18 Phantom – good point.

    I’m getting no work done today you blokes !!

  21. #19. Richard’s Smokin’ Joe story can be found at (It was actually 2009 Richard. Time marches on…)

  22. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Dips, some people view joining the Klan as self-improvement. Doesn’t make it right. Send in the clowns I reckon!

  23. Phil – now you’re being silly. I suppose people view the world from different perspectives.

  24. #23. Almanackers being silly? Never!

  25. The Klan was (is) very good for the good old boys who run the cotton businesses in the south.

    Couldn’t have synthetic sheets.

  26. Phil Dimitriadis says

    I’m not being silly Dips. It’s a perfectly valid analogy. Let’s just agree to disagree on this one. I’m surprised our truce has lasted this long. Oh well, footy is not far away.

  27. David Downer says

    Great read Dips. SBS should post it as their plug for next week. I will be tuning in


  28. Pamela Sherpa says

    Boxing is an interesting topic – sometimes it looks like thuggery and at other times you can be enthralled by the skill and athleticism of it all. I love watching the old Ali footage.

    As far as kids go- they should be barefoot, fancy free and allowed to roll around in the dirt. I’m grateful that I grew up doing just that. I’ve proudly kept the letter from my daughter’s(she is 21 now) primary school principle which said that if she did not stop climbing trees she would be banned from the playground. It’s something I always encouraged.

    Yes Dips, there is hope . We have to be brave enough to stick to our guns. It’s a shame we have to put up with so much spin/rubbish though. It’s very frustrating

  29. Clearsighted says

    #16 Phil D: Can you patronise a bit more, please?

  30. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Clearsighted, read between your blinds.

    I’m not trying to be patronizing or superior. I’m just disagreeing about an issue with my old sparring partner Dips and offering my point of view. If you don’t like it, tough.

  31. The snipings are accumulating. Phantom (#18): Phil would have been the first to jump in and try to stop what was happening if he had been there. I know your post was a friendly footy jibe but given the accumulation it looks a bit snarky. Clearsighted (#29): I’ll see Phil’s paternalism and raise your dollop of glib, sarcastic fatuity.

    FWIW, I like the idea of boxing. Ideally it is the purest, most ethical sport. But I’m not sure I like the way it is managed and promoted today (think Green, Mundine, Don King etc.). Nor am I sure when this golden age of boxing was. Funnily enough, like Dips I abhor the idea of MMF/UFC etc — but I can’t help being impressed by how ethically it seems to be run and how articulate its competitors seem to be. Ultimately I can’t enjoy seeing someone with his arms pinned getting punched in the head — though if he has agreed to these rules then who am I to object?

    As a Mount Isa boy I shudder at the idea of a boxing troupe in the Isa. There were enough expressions of stupid male violence already without bringing another container-load of testosterone to the town. And as a bit of geographical correction: you don’t go across to Birdsville from Mount Isa, you go down to Birdsville, about 500K due south.

  32. Clearsighted says

    Unfortunately, comments #30 ad #31 only confirm the point raised by my question (#16).

  33. Phil Dimitriadis says

    it amuses me that a bunch of hard-nosed boxing types can become so rattled by an innocuous left jab.

  34. Do we need a man in a white shirt and bowtie to step in at this point?

  35. Firstly, Dips, I appreciate your concern, and value your efforts to uplift. I missed the SBS show but I have read quite a bit on tent boxing, and saw the tents in Oakey (Jimmy Sharman I reckon). The early writing suggested Aborignal fighters were exploited by white owners. However, later research by Richard broome, shows that individual agancy was a key in this. That the fighters were invited to be part of the troupe, and made the choice to be part of the troupe, and became part of what was both a small travelling community and an enterprise. I have invited Daryl Adair (fine general historian, Australian historian and sports historian) to point us in the direction of some of this research.

    Secondly, it is nice to see the commenters firing up.

    Thirdly, I didn’t really like boxing – although I loved the Ali stuff – until I started to read the stories. And then I followed Anthony Mundine when he made the change, and wrote for a number of publications about the issue – one long feature for The Scotsman. The story took me to Ricky Thornberry and the tragic Thornberry story, and my understanding changed. I should try to find a link.

    Fourthly, we have yet again uncovered the age old tension of the freedom to be and to act versus the freedom to critique in the hope to make better.

  36. #35. JTH, you stepped in to do the job (#34) right on time!

  37. JTH – the stories of blokes like Elley Bennett and Dave Sands are magnificent – sad but magnificent. With all due respect to Anthony Mundine he wouldn’t get past the first round with those blokes.

  38. Dips, as a boxer, probably not, although some of the early analysis from American/Canadian mags prasied his technique and speed and his aesthetic as a boxer. His subsequent record has helped him commercially but nor won hmi a lot of respect as a boxer.

    However, talk with some Indigenous Australians and they admired him enormously at that time. Within months of leaving rugby league he was a popular choice as Aboriginal Person of the Year in NAIDOC Week. They saw his voice as unfettered.

    The most illustrative element of the Mundine story was the sheer hatred I witnessed in various Qld pubs where I watched his early fights. It is worth observeing that behaviour through the lens of ‘race’.

  39. Richard Jones says

    JTH, Dips, Gigs and others: the current Mundine is not a patch on his father Tony.

    Tony Mundine fought the great South American Carlos Monzon for the world middleweight title. This was before all the extra classifications such as super welterweights and super middleweights came into being, although we did have light welterweights and suchlike cluttering up the listings a tad.
    And before all the superfluous bodies which claim to promote “world” titles were born.

    Back then there was just the WBA and the WBC.

    I used to write for a modest publication called “Small Glove News” run by a Sydney Westie named Les Gibbons. Tony Mundine came to Port Moresby in PNG on a bit of a publicity tour in the 70s.
    The PNGeans loved him. So I penned an article for Les about the tour and all the hoopla which went with it.

    Tony Mundine was a very gracious interviewee with no pretence or bull about him.

  40. The boxing troupe in WA was run by George Stewart. He always came to the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Fair. I liked the drums and George’s call of: “Push ya way in an push ya way through. HEY you stop pushin” Those with an interest in such things might like to track down his book The Leveller: The story of a violent Australian.

    The Leveller (published 1979) has come into a bit a prominence recently as recommended reading by David Whish-Wilson author of Line of Sight, the best book I read in 2010.

  41. Clearsighted says

    My father-in-law boxed in the travelling tents, taking on all comers, during the 1950s. I cannot presume to understand his experiences. I do know that he is a decent bloke who has raised a fine family and is a man who has lead, not with a hook, but by example.
    There is a story accompanying every participant in the ring, and I applaud Dips for bringing to light a program which made focus of lives different from our own (with apologies to those almanacers who may be either a boxer, or a ref in a bow tie).

  42. Richard Jones says

    DOES anyone remember a former Age journo named Mike Ryan? I think he used to style himself as Michael C. Ryan.
    He ran a boxing magazine simple styled: Fighter.
    Big promotional tool was his flame of the time, Bev Will or Wills, who wrote about the fights. Even produced a book I recall titled ‘Fighter Lady’.

    And a coup for Ryan was in attracting Australia’s boxing guru Ray Mitchell into his stable of writers. I think Mitchell had in an earlier life been the mainstay of the ‘Ring’ magazine.

    Ryan and Will came to Port Moresby in September 1974 when local boy Martin Beni fought Sth. Aussie Colin Cassidy and won on a sixth round kayo. Bev wrote the lead article for the November ’74 issue of Fighter.

    Ryan later went to work for the daily Post-Courier in Moresby as a sub-editor, but didn’t last too long. Sub-editing skills not of the highest order, I seem to recall.

  43. Richard Jones says

    WELL, what a surprise Dips eh ??

    Fred Brophy isn’t going to retire after all. He got an award from the Qld. Boxing Association — or similarly named organisation — which was richly deserved.
    Old ButterBean was in the audience to applaud.

    But in the final moments of Part 2 of Outback Fight Club Fred and Sandy decided not to fold up the tent and fade away, but to keep going.

    For one more year, at the very least.

    One of the highlights of Tuesday night’s viewing IMHO.

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